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Dublin: 17 °C Monday 13 July, 2020

Cardinal Rules Part 15: On Lenten bootcamp for priests

The (not) Primate of All Ireland brings the Fathers on a pre-Easter retreat of expiation and self-flagellation. They also promise to give up pink M&Ms for Lent.

(Not) Cardinal Sean Brady

WE HAD OUR annual Lenten retreat this week. I took the priests to Father James O’ Brien’s house, because I had been informed that he “gives good retreat.” Fr James is American, hence his preference for being referred to by his first name and his many newfangled ideas.

We arrive by minibus at Fr James’s house. He greets us at the door with a broad smile. There is way too much back slapping and friendly arm-clasping for my liking, but I let it pass as he is American and probably cannot help himself.

Fr James takes us all out into the garden to consider the “beauty of God’s green creation”. With his hands on his hips he struts around and asks us to breathe in the fresh air and stand in silent contemplation.

The silent contemplation is broken by Father Cronin shouting, “I think I’ve stepped in poo.” Fr James just smiles and asks him to “go with it.”

After an hour of this we go inside for pancakes. Everybody eats their pancakes and thinks about Jesus lots.

We all sit around in a circle and Fr James asks us to close our eyes and imagine Jesus is entering the room. Young Fr Deegan is afraid to close his eyes and has to be reassured. “It’s just a metaphor for Jesus walking into your life,” says Fr James.

“What’s he wearing?” asks Fr Brennan.

“What?” says Fr James.

“Jesus. What’s he wearing?” Fr Brennan asks.

“I…I…I dunno,” replies Fr James.

“Sandals,” pipes up Fr Lawlor. “He always has sandals. A great man for the sandals is Jesus.”

There follows a discussion about what Jesus would be wearing. All the priests have their eyes closed. I open mine to see a confused Fr James looking at them.

After a Rosary marathon Fr James asks us to think about the agonies of Jesus on the Cross. Fr O’Rourke is eager to contribute his opinion. “I often think the agonies of the Crucifixion must not be unlike having one’s back waxed,” he says.

“You think,” says Fr James.

“Did you have your back waxed for the expiation of all mankind’s sin so that one day we may all be reconciled with God in Heaven?” says Fr Lawlor.

“No, I did it for last year’s trip to the Canaries,” replies Fr O’Rourke. Fr Lawlor folds his arms imperiously, “Well then,” he says.
There is an awkward silence.

“Chinese burns are really sore,” says Fr Deegan. All eyes are on him now. “I got one once from Bishop Flanagan.”

Fr Brennan shakes his head and sighs, “Old school confirmations. They just don’t do them now like they used to, do they?” There is general agreement that what’s missing from confirmations is at least a good slap on the cheek.

“I think we’re straying from the point a little,” says Fr James.

“I hit my thumb with a hammer once,” says Fr Mullen, “I was putting up a picture of the Crucifixion at the time. How ironic is that?”

“You think you understand somebody’s centuries old pain, but you don’t do you?” says Fr Brennan. Everyone agrees. Fr James looks lost.

Our final meeting. Fr James seems to be trying extra hard. “So what’s everybody giving up for Lent?” he says with a frozen smile.

“Pink M&Ms,” shouts Fr Deegan. “There’s no such thing,” says Fr Lawlor. “There is too,” says Fr Deegan. An argument ensues, and I make a mental note to have Fr Deegan tested for colour blindness.

After dinner Fr James takes me aside. “I think your guys are more than ready to go home,” he says.

“But we’re booked in until tomorrow,” I reply.

“It’s okay,” he says while putting money into my hand, “consider this a parting gift.” I tell him I can’t accept it, and that staying one more day is not a problem. I notice he is smiling, but his voice is cracking. The priests’ all-round holiness has obviously touched him in some way.

That evening we all pile into the mini bus. As we drive away the priests all wave goodbye to Fr James. “What a nice man,” says Fr O’Rourke. “I think we developed a real connection with him.”

“Do you know what we should do,” says Fr Brennan, “we should go back at Easter to visit him as a surprise.”

And everyone agrees that it sounds like the best idea ever.

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About the author:

(Not) Cardinal Sean Brady

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